Friday, 28 July 2017

Travel & Beer: Valencia, Spain Part III - Some Cerveza Sampling...


After my last two posts it seemed fitting and logical to write a little about some of the beers and bars of the city, as I'd imagine some of you are curious - and possibly thirsty - by now.

The beer aspect of my trip was far from the most important but nevertheless I did get time to get to a visit or two to a few bars during our stay, just to cool us down from the Valencian heat you understand. I had no real idea of what to expect from the Spanish beer scene, as apart from tasting a few Barcelona beers at Alltech this year I had no real clue as to where the microbrewed beer scene stood in the country, let alone Valencia. I had contacted the helpful Joan from Birraire Beer Blog and he had confirmed a couple of places I had already electronically stalked, so I ended up visiting three main bars and trying their beers, plus I ran into a couple of strays here and there along the way.

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Birra & Blues

First up was Birra & Blues who brew just outside the city and have two bars in the city. Spaghetti & Blues near the main beach and a bar on Avinguda de María Cristina very close to the central market. It's a modern, bright bar with a little snug hidden behind the serving area and loads of seating outside. We called in there on the first day after our initial wander around the city to calibrate our bearings, to slake our thirst from the valencian city heat. Herself went for La Rubia - a 5.2% blond ale, and from my small taste I thought it like rock shandy - pleasant, clean and refreshing drink on a hot day like today. I went for La Negra, a 5.8% brown ale with roasted pumpkin - or perhaps gourds of some description - but minus the spices that usually dominate and ruin a pumpkin beer for me. I really liked this one, I'm not sure how much the pumpkin actually added to the beer but there was a nice depth of flavour, which might have came from the roasting process. Anyhow overall it had a nice cola-like taste with a bit of resiny pine that was all nicely balanced in the glass. Next up was the 5.5% IPA Blues, sold as 'English Style' but in reality it's more hopped up and flavoursome than what I would associate with an English IPA. It had a typical grapefruit taste but also lemon zest and a hint of something tropical from one or more of the six hops used. Again it was nicely balanced for me and clean and refreshing. As you can see all of the beers were a little hazy but this didn't impact on taste or cleanliness, at least not to my palate!

This is a nice spot in lots of ways, the location is good for people watching and it serves food - which we didn't try - and seems to be run efficiently and effectively. The bar staff are friendly enough and willing to give samples of any beer before you try them, as I guess is the norm in most bars of this type now. It certainly revived our tired limbs anyhow.

Birra & Blues
I called back by myself one night later in the week and tried a few more beers, as there was a Belgian-style stout I specifically wanted to try. Unfortunately that was sold out so I went first for the 6% Amber on a tip off that it included Sorachi Ace as one of its hops. This was supposed to also contain roasted pineapple according to the blurb on the menu but sadly I could detect neither, it was pleasant enough but a little boring for my palate. Next up was the 7.5% Tripel which was a fine beer but perhaps a light bodied and lacked that little bit of the  'Oomph' I would have expected from a tripel. Service was a little less friendly tonight and I did feel a little like I was an inconvenience, sitting inside reading by myself, in earshot of the bar staff's incomprehensible conversations - my paranoia heightened by own social awkwardness.

My beady eyes happened to noticed a strange looking bottle in the fridge that turned out to be a smoked beer and I went for that next. Smoke My Beer is 8.2% and seems to be trying to be all things to all drinkers. It tastes like a hoppy tripel, has some smoked malts and is oaked - although I'm not sure exactly how. The bottle was opened at the bar and immediately started to gush - albeit slowly, so not quite a bottle bomb - out of the bottle and along the counter, much to my wide-eyed consternation but without causing the bar person to bat an eyelid! Now a fussier, more particular and less tired person than me might have sent it back and got something different, but with the bar person gone elsewhere to clean and tidy I took my erupting bottle to my seat and waited for it to calm down a little. This took a while... It poured cloudy but without too much of a head - anymore. Sticking my nose in the glass I decided this was a good one, containing all the above elements that I like in a beer. I got a taste of sweet smoked oranges with a sprinkle of vanilla sugar and the now-smooth carbonation gave it a lovely syrupy quality. It just goes to show that first impressions are not necessarily a way of judging a beer - I was really glad I hadn't sent it back.

By my reckoning I had more than an hour to go before closing time but when I went to get another drink, the double IPA as a night cap, I was told sternly that this would have to be my last as they were closing soon. Perhaps the sight of a lone male slowly working his way through a few beers was somewhat unnerving to them, so with this in mind I declined the beer and wandered back through the quiet streets to our hotel, wondering all along if I was really that scary looking...


Even with the erratic customer service I quite like Birra & Blues, and the beer appears to be well brewed although not all of it is to my taste. The smoked beer was excellent and was one of the beer highlights I had in the city. I'd certainly go back there again if I'm ever back in the city ... although I might go earlier and bring some company!


Oh, and maybe act less creepy...
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Tyris on Tap
Tyris on Tap sits in a weird little intersection north of the central market on Carrer de la Taula de Canvis. You could miss it if walking in the wrong direction in this part of the city, and indeed we did on our first reconnoitre. It's the tap house for the same named Valencian brewery and I wandered in by myself one day while the rest of the family were at the hotel pool. I immediately liked the look of the place with its funky mismatched furniture, polished cement floors and unfinished look, the bar counter looked very cool with its leather seated high stools and chalkboard listing the beers on offer. I scanned the list and decided on the smoked porter ... but it turns out that this listing isn't updated - presumably someone stole their stepladder - and instead the beers are listed under the taps, a little annoying and lazy perhaps? Instead I went for Paquita Brown a 5.2% American brown ale that wasn't very brown as it turned out (It's on the right in the picture above) and the beer-style-police would say it tasted more like a hopped up amber than a brown ale. But hey I'm not a member so I drank away ... and it was okay taste-wise but definitely had a raw unfinished quality, like some of my own homebrew if I'm honest.

A little wary I moved next to guest beer in the form of a 6.6% juniper citrus rye IPA from H2ÖL here in Valencia and Bax Bier in The Netherlands imaginatively called - Bax Bier Meets H2ÖL. This was another strange one with a bitter, almost acrid taste and an unappealing quality that I couldn't quite get a handle on. I began to wonder was it something to do with this bar, or maybe just me ... I decided on the latter.

As I really wasn't sure about this place, I vowed to come back and keep an eye out for Tyris beers on my travels too.

And I did both ... I tried the CCCP in Burger Beer - as I mentioned in the previous post - and found it okay if not overly exciting, then Au Yeah an American pale ale that was a little rough around the edges for me, Diablos Joe was an okay red IPA with a strange burnt sugar quality and something was not quite right again, but their VIPA was better with a nice clean hop kick. Some of the beers were quite cloudy and wondered could they do with some filtration ... but perhaps it was the yeast they used that disagreed with me, or the hops, or something else? It frustrated me that I couldn't pin-point my issues, so ironically I'd urge others to try them to see if it is just me...

Tyris on Tap
But I persevered...

We all went back to their taphouse later in the holiday because I really wanted to like the place. Service was excellent and herself got the 5% Tyris Original blond beer, which was actually quite nice, and was clean and crisp with just a little haze. I spotted the 4.5% Smoky Porter that I had wanted on my first visit in bottles in the fridge so asked for one of those. When I poured it first I ended up with a huge head and a tiny bit of beer in the bottom of the glass. I embarrassedly gulped down the foam and went to pour gently this time when I noticed how hugely over carbonated it was. I have no idea how it didn't explode from the bottle! I took me ages to pour it and trying to get any taste from it was difficult, as the carbonation stripped any hints of roast or smokiness from your palate almost immediately and made the beer feel quite watery. This was hugely disappointing again and it left me wondering about Tyris ... if you can't get the carbonation right on a porter it seems to me like a bad sign...


So with Tyris I had mixed feeling. None of the beers were undrinkable but many seemed to me to have minor issues and none really stood out, although the blonde was pleasant enough as was the VIPA. I guess that sometimes a beer just doesn't suit your palate...

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Zeta Beer at Olhöps

I heard about the Zeta Beer tap takeover at Olhöps on Carrer de Sueca from Joan at Birraire Beer Blog again, so one night while the rest of the family were tucked up in their hotel rooms with books and screens, I made the twenty minute journey south of city centre to the bar. It was quite busy when I arrived with people standing outside and all seats taken in the front section, so I squeezed down to the back. The fact that the air conditioning unit was down here was helpful too, so I stood blocking the cooling breeze from others and taking in my surroundings, as well as scanning the beer list on the chalkboard behind the bar.

The bar was long and narrow with a nice modern warehousey feel that was hip and trendy - unlike that phrase I suppose - with industrial style shelving on the walls and more polished concrete. Obviously all the beers were from Zeta (Yet another Valencian brewery so at least I was keeping things local!) or collaborations with another brewery. I was a bit wary of quality to be honest and I always think that if you can brew a nice clean lager then you can brew almost anything, so first up was a half pint of the 5.5% Zeta Hell. My first taste put a smile on my face as this was clean and crisp with a lovely subtle honey and lime zip complementing the biscuity base. I felt in safe hands and sat down to do a bit of crowd watching. It was then that I noticed that apart from perhaps one other person I was the oldest here by at least a decade and probably more. Feeling slightly paranoid again about the whole auld-lad-sitting-in-a-bar-looking-at-young-ones thing I saw a spare seat at the counter and plonked myself on it, once again hoping I appeared slightly less creepy ... but doubting it.

Next up was the hefty 7.8% Zendra, a rauchbier, and one of my favourite styles and this had the usual bacon-like flavours and some nice barley sugar sweetness, with just a hint of bitter hops and perfect carbonation, very tasty indeed. The place was really buzzing now with a vibrant, eclectic crowd full of happiness and incomprehensible chatter as I sat there trying to absorb their youth and energy. Then quite suddenly, one of the bar men vanished and the one guy now behind began to get hammered with orders, and not just for beer but for snacks and the interesting hop ice cream they sold here. I had decided that my next beer would be the 8.7% Blackbell Baltic Porter, a Zeta collaboration with Bluebell coffee roaster from the city. But suddenly I became invisible as my eyeline and the barmans were blocked by the taps and no amount of standing up and down on the rungs of my stool or finger waving at him got his attention, as he worked his way through the younger, better looking and quite frankly better spending clientele at the other end of the bar. It was clear they weren't expecting to be this busy, but where the other barman went I never figured out.

Zeta Beer at Olhöps
Eventually having done a little dance on top of the bar (I jest - but I was tempted) I got my half pint of porter, which was very much worth the wait. Full bodied and with more of a dark chocolate than coffee flavour, which improved as it warmed up a little - and with its lovely silken carbonation it jumped to the top of the nicest beers I'd had in the city. As I savoured the beer I chatted to a few people, who all seemed very friendly, and one pointed out the Zeta brewer, who I decide I'd thank on my way out - after my final beer.

I had planned to have whopping 10.5% barley wine for my last one but tiredness from our busy day, the heat and the beers were taking their toll and I changed to the 6.7% Zeta Hop IPA at the last minute, as I was in need of a pick-me-up. Service was back on track and I received this one relatively quickly. This was a very well made IPA, with resinous pine and lychees combined with a sticky malt sweetness that just stopped short of being cloying - my kind of IPA.

By now time was pushing on and with a twenty minute walk back to the hotel I decided to head off. On the way out I spotted the Zeta brewer, who I complimented on the beers. He asked me what ones I had and seemed impassive when I started waxing lyrical about the helles, my first beer. I could see his eyes glazing over and I knew I'd lost him. Before I got to talk about the rest of the beers he had wandered off, writing me off as a lager lout no doubt ... I really do make a bad impression with brewers, regardless of the country.

I very briefly chatted with a guy from a local bottle shop (more on that spot in another post) and another person from Zeta who I'd conversed with in the Twitter universe. At this stage it was getting late and I was tired, so almost falling over a big black dog that appeared to be standing guard at the door, I toddled off into the night, full of happiness and osmosis-gained youth.


Olhöps is a great bar, although the service was a bit scarce and brusque at one point, but this seemed to be just a glitch that night, and it was more than compensated by the terrific atmosphere and great beers. It's a bar I'd like to check out when I'm less tired and they're less busy. The Zeta beers I had were great and very clean and clear. (Not that I'm against cloudy beers, unless I'm blaming it for a flawed beer!) In my travels through the city I also tried an American amber collaboration called Nublar with H2ÖL, which was excellent too, I was really impressed by this brewery. I'm not sure they felt the same about me though!

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Valencia wouldn't be on many peoples radar as a beer destination but like much of the rest of the world it's seeing an explosion of new breweries and beer. And like other places some are good, some are bad, and many just produce beer that doesn't suit your palate. I really only sipped at the surface of the beer scene here, as this was a family holiday and not a beer tourist one. Service varies a great degree in bars here too and although none were outright rude some were brusque and disinterested, but again that's possibly the effect I have on people...

But I liked it all with the benefit of hindsight, even those beers I felt were a little off were worth trying because life should be about the bigger experience, with less focus on the little things.

I have a round up of some of the other bars and bottle shops still to come - along with posts about tapas, jellyfish, snails and horse meat, plus buildings and people. This series could go on for a while yet...

Liam

The series starts here by the way ... Travel: Valencia, Spain Part I - Wonder Walls



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